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Thursday 21 August 2014

Panama seizes 'Korea missiles' ship

Published 16/07/2013 | 11:58

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A picture posted by Panama president Ricardo Martinelli showing alleged missile equipment on a North Korean-flagged ship (AP)

Panama says it has seized a North Korean-flagged ship carrying what appeared to be ballistic missiles and other arms that had set sail from Cuba.

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Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli told RPC radio the ship had been heading for North Korea, and the undeclared military cargo appeared to include missiles and non-conventional arms.

There were no immediate details of the quantity of weapons but Mr Martinelli said the ship was violating United Nations resolutions against arms trafficking.

Earlier, the president said on his Twitter account that the arms were "hidden in containers underneath the cargo of sugar". He offered no details but posted a photo of what appeared to be a green tubular object inside a cargo container or the ship's hold.

Mr Martinelli said the 35 North Koreans on the boat resisted police efforts to take the ship to the Caribbean port of Manzanillo. The crew was later taken into custody. The president said the captain had a heart attack and also tried to commit suicide during the operation.

He said authorities had been tipped off some days ago that the ship might be carrying drugs.

Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the seized ship is called Chong Chon Gang and has been on the institute's suspect list for some time.

He said the ship had been caught before for trafficking narcotics and small arms ammunition. It was stopped in 2010 in Ukraine and was attacked by pirates 400 miles off the coast of Somalia in 2009.

The institute has also been interested in the ship because of a stop it made in 2009 in Tartus, a Syrian port city hosting a Russian naval base.

Mr Griffiths said the institute earlier this year reported to the UN a discovery it made of a flight from Cuba to North Korea that travelled via central Africa. "Given the history of North Korea, Cuban military co-operation and now this latest seizure, we find this flight more interesting," he said. "After this incident there should be renewed focus on North Korean-Cuban links."

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